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Pret A Manger is no longer reliant on London trading returning to pre-Covid levels as the broader geography of its business means there are many other opportunities for growth.

Speaking at MCA’s recent Omnichannel Foodservice Conference, interim MD Guy Meakin said the business was “not forecasting growth from here on in”, in the capital. “I don’t want to rely on it. We have been in that place before as a business – we don’t need to make those mistakes again, so we are absolutely looking to go where the people are.”

He said that while there are “still great riches” in London, “there are so many more opportunities outside London for a brand like Pret to grow”.

Pret used its closure period during the first lockdown to understand how to change its business and evolve it going forward, kicking off its transformation programme in the summer of 2020, and its new mantra of going to where its customers are, rather than following the skyscrapers.

As part of the transformation programme, Pret set itself a target of double the size of its business pre-Covid, with 200 new shops earmarked for the UK and expansion overseas.

“I’m really delighted to say that we are on course for that.” He said its recently published half-year numbers were up almost 300% on the prior year and that Pret had returned to profitability in March this year.

A large part of its UK expansion is about moving into the regions where it has not necessarily focused previously, Meakin explained. “London is huge focus for us […] but we really can’t just rely on the London business going forward.”

And with only c.400 shops currently, Meakin said Pret saw the potential to reach the likes of other big players in the food to go market, such as Costa and Greggs, with +2,000 sites.

It has recently opened it cities like Leicester, York, Wigan and Stratford Upon Avon and has been expanded further into Greater London within the M25, to places like Twickenham and Cobham.

Some of the data gleaned from its coffee subscription service – also launched during the pandemic – has also been put to good use in pinpointing areas where demand is high but where Pret currently didn’t have a shop, such as Chiswick and Beckenham.

“Crucial to this growth really is our approach to franchising. Pre-Covid we only had a limited number of franchise partners, we have now selected very carefully over the last 12 months, six partners and that will continue to grow over the coming months,” Meakin said of its UK expansion.

Globally the brand has 20 franchise partners, and has recently expanded to Canada, Ireland and Kuwait, with India to see its first Pret shops open in the new year, followed by Spain and Portugal, “and there are many others we are looking into”.

Meakin said its refocused property strategy alongside its digital innovations, in the form of its coffee subscription and Pret Perks loyalty scheme, as well as its move into Pret at Home products, “definitely means we are in a much stronger position than we have ever been”.